“I Will Always Come Home to You” Part II
“I could feel it in my bones, INPY. And furthermore, your great grandfather was a man of his word. And he promised me…he told me…”
I could see how scared she was when she told this story to me years later, just as she’d been when she’d told the story to my father and my grandfather. Ruby may have “known” that he was alive, but she had also known that his ship would go down…so what did it mean? That was paranoia more than anything, right? Was this just wishful thinking? She knew what other widows in town said about someone going through this.
They said “wait…just wait.”
You have to understand, this was a woman that didn’t ever drive a car so long as she lived. Ruby lived her life as a wife and a mother, in that order. For the times, she was the ideal of both. She took care of the children and created a home for her, her husband, and her family. She loved my great grandfather, and I’m sure, looking back, she couldn’t fathom how the world was going to work without him in it.
“Just wait” she said. “I knew that was what everyone was saying, and I knew that they were right. At some point, you’ve waited long enough”.
It had been just less than two weeks from the date she’d been given that the boat had gone down until that day she stood in the kitchen making lunch for her son, my grandfather, Paul. She was trying to make peace with it, as “at some point you give the devil his due. You let go. You’ve waited long enough and you start to just…let go.” She had been letting go in the kitchen when there was a bang on the door. In her words;
“It damn near killed me when I saw your great grandfather standing there on our front step. He looked awful…he was gaunt, grizzled…just a mess of a man and I thought he was a ghost come from the grave. I’m not ashamed to say I almost fainted right there. In fact I know I swooned a bit because the next thing I knew I was in his arms and he was saying to me, ‘I told you I’d always come home to you, didn’t I?’ And I was saying to him that I was so sorry and that I would never doubt him again. And by God INPY, I never did. When your man cheats death for you, you best never doubt him again.”
It seemed that when his boat had hit the rocks and started to go down, my great grandfather stopped being a captain and started being a husband. Why? Because he had a promise to keep. There was no way he wasn’t getting home. He fought tooth and nail to make it to the shore. He grabbed on to whatever was floating around him (remember; he couldn’t swim) and went for the coast.
When he hit dry land he realized that he was more than 30 something miles of Maine wilderness away from the closest town and keeping his promise. Not to mention that he was in the midst of the storm that downed his boat…but he was alive and in tact. He said years later (to his brother) that once he got his wits, took a good look around and figured out where he was…he started walking. Just like that. He started walking. The man had just been on a ship that went down, got slammed around in the ocean, doggy paddled his way to shore in a storm and was standing there, soaked to the bone…
And he just started walking. No “find shelter and wait out the storm”… he started walking. How? Why?
According to my great uncle (A merchant marine…I often wonder how it is that I wound up in the Army) he realized once he’d “spit out the salt” that “Ruby was going to hear he’d gone down, and that the faster he got home the less time she’d spend suffering and heartbroken over his demise. The thought of her in that much pain?Well, that was just more than your great grandfather could stand…and he wouldn’t have any of it.”
He got moving because he loved his wife.
Being a good Maine boy, he knew how to get by in the woods well enough. He foraged, found shelter when he had to, and basically he just kept going. Day after day, he just kept going with one thing in mind; get home to Ruby.
My dad likes to tell this story to me, or my brother, or anyone, really. When he would tell it to Kid Brother and I, he’d finish it by saying; “that’s the stock you boys come from. Don’t you ever forget it.”
So I don’t forget it. I try to remember what it takes and what it means to be strong enough physically and mentally to fight the ocean, New England storms, and the wilderness of Maine…not to mention exhaustion, starvation, and exposure…to stare all of that down…because of a promise.
I try to remember that being that strong doesn’t preclude you from still being tender and loving enough to kiss the woman you love on the forehead and promise her that no matter what, you will always come home to her. To know why that’s important. And to realize how much strength can come from that vulnerability.
I know that I envy this man that I never met and the relationship that he had with my great grandmother. His pictures, brown and faded, were everywhere in my “grammy Ruby’s” house, so I always felt like he was watching me. He wasn’t a particularly handsome man…not ugly either. He was clearly strong; his thick arms and broad shoulders are evident in every picture I’ve ever seen of him. My great grandfather was also a serious person, as in the pictures where he was alone he’d have his jaw set and his eyes narrow…”he got that look on his ship, staring out ahead to see what was coming” Ruby told me. But in the pictures with her by his side he was clearly different. I’m sure you can guess how I mean.
After I heard that story the first time, I felt it moreso..that he was watching me. To this day, I still do.
As for the rest of his life? They had another son, 20 years after my grandfather (for real) and they all lived in Maine. Both sons went on to have sons…although my grandfather’s brother was more an uncle to me than a great uncle. And both sons told their sons the story of their grandfather, and how he always said he’d come home.
True to his word, my great grandfather did indeed always come home. He died in his bed, at home with his family around him before I was ever born. The Atlantic never got him, but it damn sure did try.
2 more days and I’ll be where he always said that he’d come home to, no matter what. I always think of him as I get closer and closer to being in his home town. I see him in everything around there…I see him in my father and my brother. In the “Hellacious tides” and the families saying good bye to their fisherman fathers and husbands at the wharfs. I see him in the woods and I damn sure see him in the rocks on the shore.
And I hope that people in the little town of Lubec, Maine see just a little of him in me.